Are you expecting the patter of tiny paws?
On an excitement scale of 0 - 10, your dog giving birth ranks right up there as an 11.
However, it is alarming to see your dog in pain as she labors to birth the puppies. And if you don't know what to expect things seem so much worse. And there's the stress of recognizing if she needs help...or indeed, that she's doing fine so you don't disturb a normal birthing with a panicked trip to the vet.
So let's take a look at what to expect when a female dog gives birth, including pointers to when she needs help.
#1: First Stage Labor
As her due date approaches, you hold your breath!
Don't! Be prepared for a wait.
Predicted whelping due dates are notoriously unreliable. This is because the date of mating does not necessarily correspond to the ovulation date (which is the actual Day 0 of the pregnancy.)
It helps to know ahead of time if the mother dog has a single puppy or a large litter, because these factors can cause slow labor. These, and pups from breeds with big heads (in the nicest possible way!) are more likely to need help.
That said, contact your vet once your Mom dog reaches her due date without pups appearing. This allows you both to plan, should they dilly-dally beyond a few days.
First stage labor is all about toning up the uterine muscles and getting ready for birth. The signs include:
Restlessness and pacing
Digging and nesting
Staring at her flanks
Lack of appetite, and sometimes vomiting
A fall in rectal temperature (Below 100 F is a giveaway of impending labor)
A clear vaginal discharge.
First stage labor lasts anywhere between 4 and 24 hours.
#2: Second Stage Labor
This is the active pushing phase, during which the puppies are born, one by one.
This involves pressing and straining, for which the mother often lies down.
She uses her tummy muscles and bears down, often groaning as she does so. The first sign a puppy is about to be birthed is a blue bubble (the amniotic sac) at the vulval lips. The pup should follow shortly.
Pups can be born rapid-fire or with a gap in between. A typical time interval between pups is 30 to 60 minutes. Active straining for more than one hour should start alarm bells ringing. Most vets insist on seeing the mother if she's actively straining 1 to 2 hours without a pup appearing.
Again, it helps to know how many pups to expect, so that if the mother takes a prolonged break before they've all arrived, you can seek help.
#3: Third Stage Labor
This involves passing the placenta. Most placentas follow hot on the tail of each puppy. Unlike in people, a pup's placenta is wrapped around each fetal sac like a belt, so retained placentas are uncommon. The mother cleans up the pup and quite possibly eats the birthing sac and placenta in the process.
The mother alternates between second and third stage labor as each pup is born. When everything goes well, the mother nips open the birthing sac and starts licking the newborn until they squawk. Reassured by the noise, she may then revert to pushing out a sibling.
If for any reason, she leaves a pup inside the birthing membranes, quickly burst the sac with a finger and free pup’s nose and mouth of fluid. Make sure the pup is moving and breathing, and then pop him back with Mom.
For the passive pup that isn't doing much, give them a vigorous rub with a towel to stimulate breathing. Keep rubbing until they respond.
That's what to expect from a normal delivery.
It's a great idea to watch YouTube videos of dog birthing and read as much as you can on the topic. Once your Mama dog goes into labor, start keeping a record of timings. That way if things start to go awry you have a better idea of what happened when, which is an invaluable guide for your vet.
Also, if in doubt, phone your vet for advice. But make life easier on your nerves, and on the mother, by knowing what to expect when your dog is expecting.